Millions of businesses have had to adapt overnight to working from home due to the pandemic. But even post-COVID it’s likely that huge numbers of workers won’t return to work in the same way as before. Some businesses are downsizing or even giving up their office, and many are considering continuing to offer a flexible remote working option.
Although most people have adapted well to temporarily working from home, there are a few things that should be covered as part of a permanent remote working policy.
Why is a comprehensive remote working policy so important?
Remote working offers a lot of flexibility, but it’s still important to outline exactly what you’re expecting from your employees.
On the one hand, remote workers don’t have to spend an hour commuting to the office, but that doesn’t mean you should be expecting them to work an hour longer. But also just because they’re not in the office it probably doesn’t mean they can take twice as many coffee breaks and extended lunches.
You need to be completely clear about what you are expecting in terms of hours, communication, progress, efficiency, and availability. Otherwise, your team could end up feeling like they’re under too much pressure, or feel like no one is really paying attention to what they’re doing.
Supporting remote workers’ wellbeing
Working remotely not only runs the risk of making employees feel isolated, but many will find it harder to switch off at the end of the day or struggle with their workload but not feel like they can ask for help as easily.
It’s important that part of your remote working policy puts in place measures to support and look after your employees’ wellbeing. Offer advice on best practices for working remotely, and how to stay productive and motivated outside of the office. Ensure remote employees feel like they are able to take annual leave, and call in sick when they’re unwell.
Make sure employees have enough information about how to maintain and improve their physical and mental health when they’re working remotely. Share resources about eating well and exercising. You could even provide access to an app like Noom, which helps people develop healthier habits. This will help your team to stay fit and healthy, which means they’ll be more productive and focused.
Many workers will experience depression and anxiety at some point. Share tips and resources that will help them to cope and tell them where they can get support. Online pharmacy and doctor The Independent Pharmacy, says: “If you think someone might be suffering with anxiety you should reach out to them and offer support, but don’t pressure them. If they want to talk, then listen to them but don’t try to offer your own personal opinions and advice — direct them towards professional support and treatment options”.
Supporting remote workers’ well being — their physical and mental health — should be a key part of your remote working policy so that your team is engaged and motivated.
A remote working policy needs to clearly state exactly what hours your team is expected to work. It might be that there’s some flexibility about start and finish times so just outline the number of hours they have to work each day, and the hours these need to be completed between. Make it clear whether it’s okay for them to start at any point, or whether they need to pick a schedule and stick to it.
For example, you could require your employees to work 8 hours per day, and they can do these anytime between 7 am – 7 pm, with core hours of 10 am – 4 pm so that everyone has to be available and working. You might also suggest that teams working closely together agree to work the same hours.
Keeping track of what everyone is doing and how much time they’re spending on it can be harder when you’ve got a remote team. So to have a functional remote working policy it needs to include a system for tracking how people are working.
How thoroughly you track working days will depend on individual business requirements and different roles. But you could either ask employees to manually note down and submit how long they spend on particular tasks or projects. Or you could use time tracking software to automate your employees’ timekeeping.
A remote working policy needs to cover what equipment and resources the business will provide for employees.
Can they take the equipment such as computers, screens, keyboards that they use in the office home with them? While many might have had to do that when the pandemic hit, for permanent remote workers the situation might be different. Will you set them up with a separate laptop and office furniture for their homes? If workers are switching between remote and office work, are you expecting them to bring the equipment with them each time?
You should provide everything that your team will need to do their work effectively at home. And this also means giving employees a process to request other things that they might need as they go on. Proper IT support for remote workers is also going to be essential — you need to have support available over the phone throughout the day so that any issues don’t block someone from working.
Whether everyone is working remotely or only some people are, it’s important to put in place regular communications that involve everyone. It’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated or out of the loop, especially if others are working in an office together.
Make it clear in your policy how and when you will be communicating with everyone. This could include a weekly email newsletter with the latest updates and news, and then a monthly video call with everyone attending.
Set up effective processes
It’s a lot easier for wires to get crossed when you’re working remotely, especially if you don’t have the right infrastructure and tools in place. Firstly, use cloud storage to store all your documents and files in an accessible place — ensure there’s a proper system for naming and organising so it’s easy to find everything. Set up a company intranet or HR system so that the company’s policies and other resources are always available.
Outline what communication channels should be used for different purposes. For example, use email for talking with clients, company-wide internal communications, and long conversations.
Gather feedback from remote workers
Remote working is going to be a learning curve for everyone — team members, managers, and employers. Don’t expect to set up a perfect remote working policy straight away.
Set up a system to gather feedback from everyone on a regular basis, and make it anonymous so people feel like they can share honest opinions. You then need to share the changes and updates you’re making based on the feedback, so that your team feels listened to and that their opinions are valued.
Overall, a thoughtful and functional remote working policy needs to be comprehensive and clearly set out what is expected and required from employees that are working outside of the office.